Streaks of dirt sullied Matt Kemp’s uniform as he waited for the umpires to render judgment. He had fitted himself into his Dodgers cap and grabbed his glove from the dugout before the fourth inning of Wednesday’s 3-2 victory over the Rangers. He resembled a kid who had roughhoused in a sandbox, hoping he would still be allowed to play.
The crowd at Dodger Stadium groaned when the verdict came down. Kemp was ejected, along with Texas catcher Robinson Chirinos, for their dustup to end the third inning. Kemp bowled over Chirinos at the plate. The players traded shoves before their teammates separated them. Then the umpires forced both would-be combatants to exit the premises.
“It’s not a big deal,” Kemp said. “Two guys shoving each other, and then it’s over. Really not that big a deal.”
The Dodgers would win the game in the 11th with an even stranger interaction at the plate. Enrique Hernandez scored the game-winning run on a grounder hit back to the mound by Austin Barnes. The throw from Rangers pitcher Matt Bush pulled backup catcher Carlos Perez off balance. Hernandez tiptoed around Perez and touched the plate to end the game. The Dodgers (35-32) collected their fifth victory in their past six games.
“Just bringing back my Latino roots, showing off my salsa moves,” Hernandez said. “I was pretty tired. I was pretty tired. When you can be the winning run, you’ll do anything possible to score so the game’s over and you can go rest.”
The two plays at the plate livened up the evening. Activated from the disabled list before the game, Kenta Maeda completed five innings and allowed two runs. Justin Turner swatted his second home run of the season. After scoring runs in the first and the second inning, the Dodgers could not produce until the 11th.
The real intrigue came in the third inning. Kemp was at second base with two outs when Hernandez lined a single into right field. As Kemp rounded toward third, third-base coach Chris Woodward waved him ahead. Kemp stomped on the bag and chugged toward a collision.
The throw from outfielder Nomar Mazara pulled Chirinos a couple feet up the third-base line. Chirinos caught the baseball and swiveled his head in time to see Kemp. Behind the plate, Cody Bellinger motioned for Kemp to slide. Kemp ignored the suggestion. He lowered his right shoulder and barreled through Chirinos.
“I thought it was a clean play,” Kemp said. “He was blocking the plate. I ran him over. Pretty much that simple. I was out.”
He added, “I think if I slide right there, I might get hurt.”
The impact deposited both players into the batter’s box on the first-base side. Their helmets skittered across the dirt. Kemp made no attempt to touch the plate. Chirinos pushed Kemp as the two man untangled themselves. Kemp responded with a shove of his own.
Nearby stood Rangers pitcher Cole Hamels. He tried to serve as a peacemaker, wrapping Kemp in a bear hug from behind as Chirinos stuffed his mitt in Kemp’s face. Kemp tried to wriggle free and fire back, but Hamels maneuvered him from the scene. Bellinger and Chirinos flirted with squaring off before the dugouts emptied.
“He just shoved me,” Kemp said. “Honestly, it’s really not that big a deal.”
The Dodgers coaching staff sprang into action. Hitting coach Turner Ward separated Bellinger from a pack of Rangers. First-base coach George Lombard corralled Texas first baseman Joey Gallo. Logan Forsythe locked up Roughned Odor, the Rangers second baseman who decked Jose Bautista in 2016.
The dust soon settled. Kemp and Chirinos exited the premises. And the two teams got back to the business of baseball.
By that point, the Dodgers led by two runs. Turner stung Hamels in the first inning. He had looked restored on Tuesday after receiving the weekend off to rest. He stayed hot as Hamels flipped an 0-1 changeup over the plate. Turner drove the ball beyond the fence in left.
The Dodgers snatched a second run in the next inning on an error by five-time Gold Glove third baseman Adrian Beltre. The sequence started with walks by Bellinger and Yasiel Puig. After a fielder’s choice erased Bellinger, the Dodgers attempted a double steal. Chirinos made an accurate peg to third base, but Beltre whiffed on the reception. Puig trotted home as the ball dribbled into the outfield.
Maeda was tasked with protecting the lead. He was pitching for the first time since May 29, when he experienced tightness and discomfort around his right hip. An MRI revealed a muscle strain and sent Maeda to the disabled list. He joined a squadron of fellow starting pitchers, a group that included Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill. The list of sidelined starters would soon swell to include rookies Walker Buehler and Dennis Santana.
Maeda navigated the first two innings without trouble. He stranded a pair of runners in the third. He was less fortunate in the fourth.
A one-out double by Beltre started Texas’ rally. Maeda yielded a single to Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar. Beltre slid at the plate as Austin Barnes slapped a tag on his midsection. Barnes appeared to apply the tag a moment before Beltre touched the plate, but the Dodgers could not get the call overturned on a replay challenge. A single by Gallo tied the game.
“Kenta was really good,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Everything was working. There was some bad luck — that play at the plate, we didn’t get the call, that replay.”
The game remained deadlocked into extra innings. Yasmani Grandal clobbered a pitch with two outs in the ninth and the go-ahead run on third base. His chance for a walkup ended when Rangers outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. leaped at the wall and snagged the baseball.
“That,” Roberts said, “was one of the craziest games of the year.”